Bernie Casey was born Bernard Terry Casey on June 8, 1939, in the small coal mining community of Wyco, West Virginia, to Frank Leslie Casey and Flossie Coleman Casey. While Casey was still a youth, he and his family moved to Columbus where he attended Garfield Elementary School, Champion Junior High, and Columbus East High School. Casey had already shown an aptitude for painting and drawing, and soon developed his athletic abilities as well, particularly for basketball and football.
Casey attended Bowling Green State University (BGSU) in Ohio in 1957, thanks in part to an athletic scholarship, where he remained intent on becoming an artist. Casey excelled in football while attending BGSU, and was considered a key player in the school’s 1959 championship season. Casey was named a member of the Little All American Team, and was also competitive in track and field. Casey received his B.S. degree in Art Education from BGSU in 1961, and later received his Master of Fine Arts degree from the same school.
In 1961, after receiving his B.S. degree, Casey was drafted into the NFL in the first round by the San Francisco 49ers, with whom he would spend six seasons, followed by two years with the Los Angeles Rams. In the off-season, Casey returned to Bowling Green State University, in order to complete his M.F.A. degree, which he received in 1966.
After his standout 1967 athletic season in which Casey caught 53 passes for a career-high 871 yards and eight touchdowns, Casey was named to the 1968 Pro Bowl team. Shortly thereafter, Casey became disillusioned with the NFL and professional sports in general, and decided to return to his creative pursuits.
In 1969, Casey appeared in his first film, Guns of the Magnificent Seven, a sequel to The Magnificent Seven; that same year, he wrote Look at the People: Poems and Paintings, a book of art and poetry. Casey would publish two similar books later on in his career: Where is the Revolution? And Other Poems in 1973, and Silent Screams in 1983.
In 1971, Casey produced an independent film entitled Bernie Casey: Black Artist, which focused on his thoughts and observations as a painter. As an artist, Casey has produced more than 30 solo exhibitions; he received an honorary doctorate degree from the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in Savannah, Georgia, where he served for twenty years as chairman of the board and advocated for arts education.
Casey has made over fifty-seven appearances in film and television, including the movies Cleopatra Jones, I’m Gonna Git You Sucka, Revenge of the Nerds, and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure; and TV programs such as Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and L.A. Law. In 1997, Casey produced, wrote, directed and acted in The Dinner, an allegorical drama.
Casey enjoyed painting and writing poetry. Look at the People, a book of his paintings and poems, was published by Doubleday in 1969. He died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles on September 19, 2017, after a stroke.
June 8, 1939
September 19, 2017
- He was the first African-American actor to play James Bond's ally CIA Agent Felix Leiter in Never Say Never Again (1983).
- While he was playing pro football, he was profiled by NFL Films where he was interviewed while painting. He said during the interview that he only played football for money, and if he could make as much money painting, he wouldn't play at all.
- Played for the National Football League's San Francisco 49ers (1961-1966) and Los Angeles Rams (1967-1968).
- Bernie Casey is the Chairman of the Board of Trustees at the internationally recognized Savannah College of Art and Design.